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Is Iceland the best country in the world for women?

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Summary of story from The Guardian, October 4, 2011

Guardian journalist, Kira Cochrane, argues that with “an openly lesbian PM, affordable childcare and a formidable women’s movement – Iceland may just be a feminist paradise.”

After interviewing a number of Icelandic female ministers, feminist campaigners and members of the public, Cochrane concludes that despite a gender pay gap and continuing sexual violence, Iceland is still more equal than most other countries.

For the last two years it has topped the World Economic Forum’s report on equality between the sexes, and last month a Newsweek survey named it the best place in the world for women, including health, education, economics, politics and justice.

The prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, Iceland’s first female prime minister, who is also openly gay, is proud of the survey’s outcome: “and not only for women, [but because] we know that gender equality is one of the best indicators for the overall quality of societies.”

Cochrane describes the power of Iceland’s feminist movement as “astonishing”.

In 1975, a one-day women’s strike, the “day off” was proposed by radical feminist group the Red Stockings, and on 24 October of that year an estimated 90% of the country’s women downed tools, in both the workplace and the home.

Last year Women Strike Back, a protest against the pay gap and sexual violence, revived the spirit of the Women’s Day Off, and 50,000 women flooded the streets of the capital, Reykjavik – a third of the country’s female population.

Gudrun Jónsdóttir, a veteran feminist campaigner, who works for Stígamót, a counselling organisation for victims of sexual violence, says that although the country is certainly “a paradise of gender equality on paper”, the reality doesn’t quite match.

Each year, Stígamót and the rape crisis unit at Reykjavik hospital work with around 250 women “but we can count the annual rape sentences on one woman’s fingers”.

In the last two and a half years, the government – a coalition of social democrats and left-greens  – has criminalised the purchase of sex, introduced an action plan on the trafficking of women and banned all strip clubs.

And when it comes to domestic violence, the guilty party now has to leave home, rather than the victim.

The government has also introduced a law (which will come into force in 2013), requiring corporations to have at least 40% of each gender on their boards.

Parents in Iceland talk of collective care for children, and there is no sense that motherhood precludes work or study, which effectively changes the whole structure of women’s lives.

Annadís Rudolfsdóttir, studies director of the gender equality studies and training programme hosted by the University of Iceland, lived in the UK until recently, and says it’s much easier to be a mother in Iceland.

“It costs a fortune to put your children in a nursery in the UK,” she says, “but here, as a single mother in Reykjavik, with your child in a nursery eight hours a day, you pay about £70 a month.”

The country’s first female coastguard, said: “We have a prime minister who is a woman, and our president used to be a woman, so we’ve grown up feeling anything is possible.”

  1. Oh I want nurseries at that cost! How amazing!

    As an aside, am I right in thinking that the women mentioned above have their father’s name in their second names? [father’s]dóttir? And men are [father’s]son?

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